Podcast Saga Part 1 - Are they Just Radio 2.0?


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            Okay. So this is actually going to be a different sort of episode. Or series of episodes… Let’s call it an unannounced season transition. Look, I’m not fully breaking from the premise of this podcast, which is—that there’s something of value in every piece of media be it something to gain, learn, reflect upon, or treasure. And usually, there is a recommendation somewhere in that. It just isn’t always explicit. This whole podcast was supposed to be a subjective thing: an attempt to explain our relationship media with no regard for technical standards of perfection. Because sometimes you don’t care if something is technically good. It might still speak to you all the same. I try to remind you all of that from time to time, but because this is such a break the norm, it probably is worth repeating.

            However, in the case of podcasts, I try to make my recommendation part a tad more explicit or more on the explicit side out of a perceived sense of duty. Not that I have a big voice in the podcast world, but it’s not nothing. And also, I’m greatly emotionally invested in the wellbeing of this community, so I should do something to that end, no matter how small.

            With that in mind, maybe you’ve noticed that this review show is suspiciously lacking podcasts as of late. I’ve genuinely wanted to include more in the line up for review topics but found it difficult to collect my thoughts. Story of my life.

            But here’s where things get interesting. In prepping for the next medley episode or the next proposed medley episode, I knew I wanted to put in a show called Among the Stars and Bones, a sci-fi audio drama whose first episode just launched on April 3rd. And given how difficult or daunting it can be when you are just starting, I decided to be absolutely sure that I included this show. In addition to the encouragement, it deserves the praise and props for having such a strong first episode. Even if I couldn’t really articulate why just yet, it was clearly an example of what makes audio drama so worthwhile, but that had been the sort of thing I’d been having trouble articulating the entire time.

            However, I proceeded anyway, hopeful I could somehow throw it together. With that in mind, I was re-listening to that episode earlier last week. It was after a terrible workday in which my manager who normally holds the office together was out, and I was scrambling to pick up the weight. So yeah, there’s some level of exhaustion therein, mixed with a profound but somewhat unfounded misery (after all, it is—in general—a great job at a great office), and I carried all these emotions into this re-listen. Not that it was in anyway relevant, but I think the weird head space might have produced something.

And while I cannot stress enough that on its own, this is a great show that deserves at least a chance from any podcast listener, it ended up being final piece in the puzzle I was trying to assemble in my mind. Or the catalyst that set the reaction in motion. Pick your metaphor of choice.

            As a result, I think I finally have to ability to articulate why fiction podcasting is such a force to be reckoned with no matter what think-pieces might be arguing. And I’m going to make the next set of episodes to that end. You see, this was a concern I had wanted to address way back when I made the first podcast medley episode. After all, I wanted to start making my own audio dramas, and while my mother was doing her best to be supportive, from an outsider’s perspective, it was a difficult thing to understand.

            But I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it or what I needed to say. Now, however, after a very trying week, I think I can do a better job at it.

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            Hi. It’s M. Welcome to Season 2 of Miscellany Media Reviews. Or episode 48 depending on your perspective.

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            Now, while I might have a bit more clarity in terms of how I want to approach these many subjects and topics, that doesn’t mean I have all the answers at this point. In fact, true to form, I’m probably a little quick to launch this series. It should spend more time in development but because I don’t know how much time I’ll need, I don’t want to wait anymore.

            It’s not just a matter of time, though, this show is always going to be dependent on my perspective and the limits therein. For example, my thoughts tend to be more nebulous and somewhat unclear that other people’s. And I’m not always the best at expressing them because take this very granted form for granted. It’s hard for me to understand what other people need me to clarify in order to make sense of what I’m saying. And so there always feels like there’s a little bit disconnect. There just isn’t great landing space in my mind, you can say, and I’ve come to accept that it is what it is, which is just barely passable. But I can’t really expect someone else to have those same standards.  


            Case in point. Right now, I’m not even sure how many episodes this series is going to take. And I’m okay with that. Because I’m not even sure how many topics or subtopics we are going to or will be talking about. The problem here is that I’m not talking about the individual strands of making up a braid. I’m talking about interwoven strands within a larger whole. I can’t easily take them apart piece by piece without somewhat distorting the larger picture. And even that isn’t a great metaphor. Every piece in this picture influencing other pieces as well as being influenced by those same others.

            On the other hand, I know there is a lot to say and that it needs to be said. There are certain things that I think we need to, as a community, talk about that—from what I could see—are not being talked about. But that doesn’t I can give you an outline like you would see in a high school essay. We’re largely stuck with surprises, but I’m in this for the long haul. I’m not even joking, I’m fully prepared to this going for a year if that’s what it takes. There are important things to talk about regarding this form of media, how it comes to exist, our relationship to it and each other, and where it should likely go not where other people are trying to direct it.

            While I know I do not have all the answers, I do hope this can start larger conversations about what fiction podcasting is in such a way that makes its virtues and traits more obvious to those seeking to enter or participate within the space either as audience or creator, though that line is a bit blurred, or even the casual observer charged with reporting on these happenings. I fully stand behind my belief that there’s always something to learn or gain from the stories other people tell or create. But in this particularly example, it’s not just want is created but how.

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            Like I keep saying, this whole is going to take quite a while. It’s starting to remind me of my master’s thesis. Where—and I’m not even kidding—I pulled five caffeine-fueled all-nighters in a month and ate nothing but take out, leading up to me turning the thesis in on Thursday, retreating to my home and sleeping almost all the way through Friday and Saturday, only waking up when hunger absolutely demanded it. And I still wasn’t quite myself for a week afterwards.

            So maybe I shouldn’t try to take this on, but hey, maybe the worst of it would be the bill after all that take out. So if you want to support this endeavor, I’m going to include a link to my Ko Fi account in the show notes. Also, it’s going to be relevant for an episode later in this series. Because I think how podcasting is funded is incredibly important ot the nature of the beast. But that… That’s an explanation that has to wait.


            Also, this entire endeavor isn’t just going to rely on my thoughts but also my own experiences. I do want to be as forthcoming with my perspective as possible. Because when there is an error, it’s going to be at the source. I’d never deliberately lie other than to conceal a revealing detail about my day to day life because I do like privacy. But even if I’m completely honest, I’m not going to have a perfect thought process. Try as I may. Well, actually, I don’t try that hard. I can’t even begin to imagine perfection. I’m not creative enough, I guess.

            And I’m going to open up with might be a great example of the flawed way my brain functions. Because I’m about to needless split a hair out of sheer paranoia that this point might actually be incredibly important. It could go either way, but regardless, it’s a point I tossed out during a past podcast medley episode that I was never fully content: are fiction podcasts the rightful heirs to radio dramas?

            Well to that… I’d have to clarify… what do you mean by heir?

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            Because when I hear that term, I think of it in terms of a sequence actively in motion or one that we have recently gone through. I think about steps, a full departure from one and the arrival of or to something entirely new or new enough.

            And that’s where I get uncomfortable. It’s this idea of a full break or a before/after.

            For the most part, that descriptions makes sense. After all, it’s a quick retort to unfounded dismissals that likely don’t merit anything more substantive. It’s easier to say that something is the reboot or version 2.2of this other established thing than to get someone to believe that this thing they are skeptical of actually matters. And it’s not like this metaphor offers any immediate or tangible harm to the image of podcasting. Quite the contrary, you may say.

            But in the context of this endeavor I am taking on, I think I need to be clearer with what this relationship actually is or can better be thought of as. In part because, I don’t think we’ve fully left radio dramas or radio in the past. And that’s a hard thing to say given that—as the song goes—Video Killed the Radio Star. (Pause). Okay, I just love that song and don’t have enough opportunities in my day to day life to reference it. But the underlying point still stands.

            I know we aren’t inclined to recognize radio as an entertainment option in our day to day life, but radio-based entertainment isn’t as nonexistent as we might think. Yes, visual media has a great deal of appeal to a great deal of people, but there are going to be times when eyes are irrelevant. “Eye” as in the e-y-e. Not that the self is irrelevant. That’s… that’s a different audio essay. Audio goliath. I don’t know. I need to hash out that terminology.

            Later, I’m going to argue later that different mediums favor different stories, and podcasting finds a way to exist within that framework. But for now, while you might take or leave that, the other point—a related one—is the novelty therein. When video became an option for entertainment it offered new ways to experience the world and new stories as well. Consumers could now experience more in a fairly easy way. They had—for the first time—more options, and they freely used that choice.

            Therein lies the catalyst behind radio’s slow death. Not that it’s outright dead yet. The convenience of alternatives is still letting out the blood that it would need to survive, however. Like all the streaming services being released, for example. In these services, music is more readily available and better catered to the user’s preferences. Even the free version of these at least offer a more tailored experience than anything available on radio, and as the podcast sector grows including new podcasts from mainstream celebrities, there’s going to continue to be more substitutes for radio talk shows. But still despite all of these alternatives when I get into a Lyft or Uber—from time to time—my driver will have some station playing. It’s definitely not dead as a medium. It is an option albeit an option not often taken. But it’s an option that offers very specific benefits.

            Then again, this is pure speculation, but from what I can tell, there is one aspect of radio that isn’t easily or hasn’t yet been replicated by these alternatives. In the case or radio talk shows or news stations NPR, there’s an appeal to having that live or somewhat live presentation that other people across a large or dense area could also be connected to at the same time. It’s a way of being connected to other people and to the larger society, which. Yes, maybe you don’t want to experience all the time but it’s a desire that is still somewhat there.

            I mean, yes, I can get together with friends and listen to podcasts as they go live, but any passionate podcast listener can tell you how easy it is to get behind as you discover more and more shows you like.

            For example, I probably shouldn’t have picked up Among the Stars and Bones regardless of how good it is. I found it on Twitter (more on that in a later episode) and was so intrigued by the premise that I pretended self-control as a concept just didn’t exist. You see, I have over 1000 podcast episodes of varying lengths in my back log to listen to, and that’s only shows I’ve started never mind al the ones I mean to pick up. And while my personal example is definitely extreme, it does help to convey the point that the relationship between members of the podcast audience and the creator is far less anchored in time. Yes, a very spoil-able episode or anticipated launch or season final might force its way higher up on your cue, but it only means that other episodes for other shows will be pushed back.

            With radio, time always moves on with or without you. You might build your schedule around something if you are truly determined to do so, but I don’t feel very confident in saying that that this is a common thing. It just seems like part of listening to radio is living in that moment. It’s that fleeting aspect. Which can’t be said of podcasting. In fact, part of the thrill of discovering a new podcast is going through the backlog of its episodes.

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            Ultimately, the relationship between radio and podcasting feels reminiscent of the relationship between cable television and Netflix, with emphasis on Netflix originals. As a cable cutter myself, I’m probably participating in the gradual death of that old system. Maybe. Possibly. But still, I don’t think we necessarily see a hard line between the two entities. The main components are shared, though they are transmitted in a different forms and in different ways, But the hype for the Game of Thrones final service suggests that the main difference is the live, time-driven component.

            Now as any anime fan could probably tell you simulcasting is a thing that could be done if Netflix ever recognized the appeal. However, having said that, I do want to point out the blending of these two. We wouldn’t say online streaming is the natural heir to television; it’s a preferable alternative in many situations, but it isn’t an outright replacement.  

            Here’s the thing, online streaming and television might be similar, but they’re the product of two different eras. It’s the old and new media divide, which is also a key distinction when talking about podcasting and radio dramas. Podcasting was born into this new media era, one that was remarkably different than anything that came before, and it’s this timing divide that really sets the two apart.

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            For any of that to make sense, I need to clarify what “new media” is and what defining traits I’m referring to when I say that podcasting and fiction podcasting in particular were shaped by the time that bore them. And that leads to a different problem one kept Miscellany Media Reviews from attempting any episodes like this one.

            Basically, while the internet is a wild west in terms of citations and sourcing, ask any artist about their struggles, academia is not. In academia, there is this sense in which every idea that you gleamed from someone else’s work needs to be clearly labelled in the text. And that standard to adapt to other mediums. But if I were making a video essay, for example, I could flash the citation up on the screen, hoping that you would be looking at the screen to see it. Maybe you wouldn’t be, but it wouldn’t be my responsibility. But in a podcast, it’s a lot harder to convey that information. Because I would have to stop what I was saying, potentially in midsentence and read out a bunch of  citation material that you might not catch anyway. In a podcast, it’s going to incredibly hard to convey this information. And I still feel like I should. Or at least, I feel pressure to it, coming from academia myself with the thought that maybe going back is something I should consider doing.

            But I think I’ve come up with something like a solution. I’m going to try and verbalize where these ideas, explanations, and thoughts came from with a better citation in the transcripts and all sources listed in the show notes. To that end, ever source has to be numbered. So at some point, instead of dropping an author’s name, you might hear me say source 1 or 2, particularly after I’ve called back to an author for a number of times in a relatively short span of text. And/or I might open up a section saying “drawing from blank’s work.” But if it’s not enough for you, you can go into the transcript and see where the exact citations are. That being said, the transcript will still include ever aside I make or verbal citation I insert.

            Luckily, this episode will be a good test run for this idea because it’s not going to have as many heavy citations as the episode I’m working on that will relay the history of podcast technology. But if it comes to be too much then I’ll build out another section of the website to put everything at your fingertips. I might end up doing that anyway in part because it will make it easier to link to any and all podcasts I reference when we get more into what the medium is able to do. So if you hear me describe a show you like you’ll be able to find it a lot more easily.

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            Erin A Meyers, as of recording this, is an Associate Professor of Communications at Oakland University, and she wrote an article for the journal New Media & Society back in 2012 called “‘Blogs give regular people the chance to talk back’: Rethinking ‘professional’ media hierarchies in new media.” In it, she took existing academic literature and grounded it further in the rise of the celebrity gossip blogger that unsettled the previously established media industry hierarchy. Given what I’m about to say and if you have the ability to read this article by getting it through some sort of institution because it is probably behind a pay wall, you should. I’m afraid when I’m discussing podcasting this whole phenomenon is going to be hard to parse out because—as I’ll get into in a later episode—this has always been par for the course. And it’s hard to understand where we came from when in some ways we never really were there in the first place.

 But for the celebrity gossip blogger example, while this development has always been inevitable, it still happened. It couldn’t be taken for granted. And Meyers does at explaining it.

            I’ll call it Source 1 in the notes, even if I’m only mentioning it in passing because this article was a great influence on my master’s thesis, which does kind of touch on these issues, and Meyers does a great job at laying out how the abilities of the internet in the hands of an engaged audience who want more of their favorite content and filled in the gaps that previous media left behind.

            This is not the passive consumption that defined or was exulted by past forms of media, in which the audience would gather around and watch content together but not do anything more. Now, ideally, they would go forth and rant and rave about how good this piece of media was. Evangelization will grow an audience after all. But really, from a creator’s perspective, you only needed an audience to observe your work. That was the best you could hope for, partially because… Well, was there anything more you could ask for? Probably not.

            But in the internet age, there’s more an audience could do. They have the ability to engage more. And that engagement has led to a blending between the line that previously divided the consumer of content and the producer. Henry Jenkins, an American media scholar and seemingly prolific professor, across the University of Southern California, has researched this greatly. His 2006 book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide discusses the empowerment of audiences in the new media age that led them to engage in their own form of creation, not just because they can but because it’s part of the enjoyment and the fun. This is source 2 in the notes, and I want to add a quote here. Basically, audiences now producers themselves (starting quote) “take advantage of new media technologies that enable them to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content” (end quote) and that’s on page 136) [Jackson 2006, 136].

            When I first read that line, it made me think of fan fiction or fan art, because… obviously. For the first time, ardent lovers of a story or characters didn’t have to leave them be when the book or movie or television show ended. They now can go online and keep this connection alive through their own efforts and creations that we can then share through the internet with other people.

            But ultimately, if you take a step back, there’s more to it than that. It’s not just about the previously existing intellectual property, but the styles, the mediums, the—well everything. And this is me, talking, by the way.

JJ Abrahams has this quote that has circulated the internet so much that it’s hard for me source it, but even if he didn’t say it, the idea is still very much true. And it is, paraphrasing wildly because source issues, that anyone can make a film because the tools are so readily available. And that’s true for pretty much any form of media. For the first time, audiences have the ability to get tools to make the thing, building off of the other examples in the genre. And that’s the key point. If we’re not going through formal training than we likely learned from what we observed. We’re building off of the shoulders of the giants we love so much.

            An example of this: I’m not going to pretend The Oracle of Dusk wasn’t heavily influenced by Alice Isn’t Dead and Within the Wires. Those two audio dramas showed the way the medium could be utilized to twist the conventional story telling methods. You see this in other podcasts as well, but those are merely the ones that pushed me to create my own show.

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            For fiction podcasting, in particular, this blend between audience and producer has almost come to define the medium. Yes, you have more traditional “old media” types entering the space or existing within, but think about what could be known as the Hashtag-Podern-Family that, because it just exists, is somewhat of a hard thing to define. But I think it’s fair to call it a collection of podcast people—listeners, publishers, voice actors, writers, etc, etc—that make up what could be considered the core of the current podcasting movement. It’s not just that we are the ardent consumers of the content; we are also the force that push the medium along. A new podcast maker might have found inspiration from those that came before, but now that they are entering into that space, they find a support network to not just exist but thrive. It starts with the hashtag, with the many accounts that will instinctively follow-for-follow based on this similarity, then there’s retweeting, the favorite-ing of those tweets, the hashtag-follow-Friday, hashtag-audio-drama or –audio-fiction-Sunday, and the many larger figures that use their voice to highlight these newcomers.

            A few examples. It’s how I found Among the Stars and Bones, for one. Second, when this show launched, I didn’t participate in any of that at all, leaving me yelling into the digital void until the first podcast medley episode led me to stumbling upon this. And just to clarify, this is coming from someone who was never on the social internet because some people even manage to be bad at digital interactions. Go me.

            But when The Oracle of Dusk was launched with its own twitter account, it was able to get more transaction more quickly likely because I then knew about this entity that—by that point—I’d admittedly watched from a distance for a couple months. It can seem cold and calculating to put it that way. I’ll take that L if deserved, but at the same time, this is the vital trait that sets podcasting apart from radio. It’s not just the medium of delivery or when that delivery happens. It’s largely about this: this lack of a distinction between those who listen and those who make, which is quite literal in this case.

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            To get back to the initial point about the radio drama versus audio drama podcast distinction, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to talk about these two as siblings of common parents born a great deal of time apart. Like radio would be the kid a couple had when they were hardly adults themselves and audio drama podcasts are the later in life child that… Surprise!. They share common, innate traits, but having been born in two vastly different time periods, the different forces shaped them into two incredibly different albeit similar beings. They can coexist and somewhat archaic laws and norms about inheritance would leave audio drama podcasts as the logical heir to radio dramas, but this metaphor maintains some of the distinctions I had been hesitant to completely bulldoze over as well as set the tone for the rest of these episodes.

            Because yes, podcasting as we know it is greatly influenced by many other factors; it didn’t just come to when radio dramas spontaneously evolved to stay relevant. There’s more to it than that. With that in mind, next week, I’m going to clarify the history behind podcasting and the technology therein. And after that’s laid out, I’ll be able to explain an important point. Namely, what does it mean to say that podcasting has “a low barrier of entity,” if that’s accurate, and what that can mean for an audience member in this new media landscape.

            Yeah, there’s going to be some back and forth from episode to episode. I’m trying to create out a straightforward narrative where there genuinely isn’t one, and that’s not going to be easy. But bear with me because I think there is a lot we’re currently taking for granted.

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            So yeah… this is a thing I’m attempting. I’m going to include one of the trailers for my own audio drama at the end just as a further perk to this almost torture. I phrase it that way because I’m outlining and tracking the citations for next week’s episode. And this is not fun. So maybe give The Oracle of Dusk a try? Maybe? I don’t know. I kind of like it.

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I have a question for you. Suppose someone knows something bad is going to happen. Or they know something important about another person. Something that needs to be said. Should they say it? Are they under any moral obligation to do so? Would you think less of them of they didn't.


Interesting thought experiment, right? Well, I have one more question for you. (Music cuts) Are you listening?

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1. Meyer, Erin A. “'Blogs Give Regular People the Chance to Talk Back': Rethinking 'Professional' Media Hierarchies in New Media.” New Media & Society, vol. 14, no. 6, 2012, pp. 1022–1036.

2. Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York University Press, 2016.